CSA Online Conference Aims to Give Small Farmers the Tools to Keep Pace


The number of farms providing community supported agriculture (CSA) programs exploded during the 2000s as the demand for fresh, local food surged. As this trend became impossible to ignore, many other companies stepped up to the plate to market local food. In 2014 and going forward, these small-scale family farms face pressure from huge companies like Wal-Mart that have embraced local food, venture capital-backed technology companies, and a multitude of smaller local food hubs. 

To survive this onslaught of competition, CSA farmers need to work together to share best practices and promote true small-scale localized farm options. CSA farmers also need to work together to chart the future course of CSA in order to keep the concept fresh and relevant in years to come. The 2014 CSA Expert Exchange (www.csafarmconference.com) is an online conference co-presented by Small Farm Central and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) that brings CSA farmers from across the United States and Canada together to discuss topics important to the success of CSA now and into the future. 

"Joining a CSA farm is still the most direct way to support a small-scale, family farm growing high-quality produce, but there are now many options vying for the local food dollar. CSA farmers must be at the top of their game to produce the highest-quality food and continue to articulate why CSA is so important for both the farmer and the eater. This is why we organize the CSA Expert Exchange: to learn from the best and brightest," said Simon Huntley, founder of Small Farm Central and former CSA farmer.

"The 'Know your farmer, know your food' mantra is not one that will soon be pushed to the wayside. As consumers continue to push for that greater connection and understanding of their food and the environment in which it is produced, the demand for local food rises. CSA programs, by their traditional roots, provide just that--a genuine opportunity to know one's food and the hands that produced it. The CSA Expert Exchange offers a platform--a network--for like-minded farmers and supporters to gather, to learn, and to be inspired to keep fighting the good fight," said Karla Pankow of Bossy Acres.

This year's CSA Expert Exchange will occur live on March 6 and 7, 2014. The first day will be an evening session focusing on beginning CSA farmers running from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. EST. The second day will cover a variety of topics relevant to CSA farmers of all levels of experience beginning at 11 a.m. EST and running until 3:30 p.m. EST. Nationwide, the conference is expected to engage between 250 and 300 CSA farmers. The conference will be accessible via any Web browser; attendees will be able to watch video of presenters, view PowerPoint slides, and interact via chat to ask questions. The fee is $70 for both days and registration is open at csafarmconference.com.

Presenters include:
 - David Liker of Gorman Farm, Columbia, Md.
 - Chloe Diegel and Alex McKiernen from Robinette Farms, Martell, Neb.
 - Karla Pankow of Bossy Acres, Northfield, Minn.
 - Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons
 - Chris Brockel of FairShare CSA Coalition
 - Pam Dawling of Growing For Market and Twin Oaks Community, Louisa, Va.
 - Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Family Farm, Middle Granville, N.Y.